"A victory for the whole world"

A few years ago, thanks to a grant from the former JEHT Foundation, I began working with the great Skylight Pictures on a short documentary film for Amnesty members.  The film was envisioned as a tool to help our members better understand international justice through the stories of the survivors and human rights defenders who are pursuing such cases.

Thanks to their work on the internationally acclaimed State of Fear, Skylight had developed strong relationships with families and activists in Peru involved in the case against former President Alberto Fujimori, and so suggested that we feature the campaign to bring Fujimori to justice as one of the film’s three story segments.

I was hesitant at first: I wanted “hot”, current stories, and Fujimori’s then still-alleged crimes were well over a decade old.  His wasn’t “technically” an international justice case because Peru wanted to prosecute.  And the case didn’t appear to be making much headway, with Fujimori traveling from one country to the other apparently unfazed by the warrant Interpol issued for his arrest.  But director Pam and editor Peter prevailed, and when I saw the rough cut of the segment they created on Fujimori, I knew why.

The segment follows Gisela Ortiz and Raída Condór, whose brother and son, respectively, were among the students disappeared from La Cantuta University in 1992 and later killed by a paramilitary group operating under Fujimori’s effective command.  Gisela and Raida, still devastated and still so angry after some fifteen years, never stopped demanding answers about what happened to their loved ones.  They were relentless about exposing Fujimori as a murderer who had masqueraded as a head of state.  When he moved to Chile from where he had been living in exile in Japan, Gisela traveled to Chile and demonstrated outside his house, demanding to know why the police where hassling the protesters instead of the suspect inside.

When Chile’s Supreme Court decided that Fujimori could be extradited back to Peru for trial, Gisela sent a note that read “I believe that this is a victory for the whole world, recognizing that human rights abusers have little room to hide, and wherever they are, justice much reach them to restore dignity to the victims.”

Today is Gisela’s and Raida’s day, because, in the end, justice is not about the perpetrators of abuses, but about the victims and the survivors.  It’s such an important lesson that we need to keep learning over and over again, and so relevant today.

When, for example, we hear Sudan’s indicted president al-Bashir and his allies accuse the International Criminal Court of being anti-African, as though he is somehow more African or more important an African than the millions of Darfuris who have suffered because of his actions.  In Darfur, as in Peru, as in so many other places where grave abuses have been committed, we sometimes have to work to hear the voices of the victims above the spin of the perpetrators and the powerful and compilict allies who would like nothing better than to wait us out until we move on to the next story and let them off the hook.  We need to wait them out instead, just as Gisela and Raida did.

You can watch Gisela and Raida tell their story in our Justice Without Borders documentary.

Great animated short on blockade of Gaza

Gisha, Legal Center for the Freedom of Movement, an Israeli non-profit organization, produced this powerful animated short, ‘Closed Zone’.   They tapped the talent of Yoni Goodman, the animator of the award winning animated film ‘Waltz with Bashir’:

You can also watch the short video on the making of ‘Closed Zone’.

In the meantime, Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton is in the Middle East committing $900 million in aid to the Palestinians.  The issue remains how the aid being purchased is to make it into the Gaza Strip to the people that need it.  Secretary Clinton urged the Israeli government to allow more aid into the strip, but stopped short of asking for full, unhindered access.  Israel, as a gesture, has agreed to let more aid in.  Over 80% of the 1.5 million depend on aid from outside sources and the 100+/day trucks being allowed in are simply not enough to deal with the incredibly dire humanitarian situation.

Condi's former professor argues she should be tried as war criminal tonight

Tonight just after 10 pm EST, Condoleeza Rice’s former history professor will argue in a debate with Colorado State Senator Shawn Mitchell that the former Secretary of State should be tried as a war criminal.

The webcast debate will follow a showing of the documentary film Courting Condi, which follows Ms. Rice’s path from a childhood in segregated Birmingham, Alabama to her former post as U.S. Secretary of State.

The film depicts Rice’s defense of Guantanamo and the invasion of Iraq, and her apparent approval of the use of torture of detainees, but also revisits a host of other debacles including her role on the board of Chevron during the company’s extraction of oil in Nigeria amidst extreme violence and shareholder action for the company to engage with the Nigerian government, helping to bring down affirmative action at Stanford, and turning the other cheek in the face of hundreds of thousands of victims of Katrina in the Gulf Coast.

Importantly, the film tackles the issue of impunity of private security contractors (Blackwater) who shot and killed civilians in Baghdad in 2007. While an update to my interview in the film on this topic should note that now there has been an indictment brought against the guards, and at least arguably, contractors in Iraq no longer enjoy the immunity from Iraqi prosecution they did at the time of filming, the need for oversight and adequate regulation, also highlighted by Rep. David Price, still persists.

You can watch a q-and-a with the film’s producer at 10:15 pm EST, and the debate at 10:30 EST, here:

They Can’t Get Away With It…

So it ain’t breaking news that the Bush administration concocted a legal flip-flam to justify the kidnapping, capture, detention and torture of hundreds of people from around the world, under the guise of national security. But to witness how and exactly what they did in meticulous detail – legal memos, public statements (ie, lies) by administration officials, accurate re-enactments of torture, and testimony from a few extraordinarily strong men who survived death-defying treatment – was beyond maddening.

This happened last night as my husband pulled me away from Facebook to watch Torturing Democracy, an excellent new documentary produced by National Security Archive and Washington Media Associates airing now on PBS. My blood was boiling by the end.

Perhaps most compelling were the half-dozen or more former military officers who denounced the detainee treatment policy. These guys weren’t paper-pushing, desk-weenies. One is a former Navy aviator and one is the former head of the Navy’s SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) program. They stated emphatically how this undercut America’s core values and how this will harm American servicemen and women “for decades.”

Here’s a transcript from Malcolm Nance, Chief of Training, US Navy SERE, (1997-2001):

“It will hurt us for decades to come. Decades. Our people will all be subjected to these tactics, because we have authorized them for the world now. How it got to Guantanamo is a crime and somebody needs to figure out who did it, how they did it, who authorized them to do it, and shut it down because our servicemen will suffer for years.”

Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch, Senior Prosecutor, Office of Military Commissions, (2003-06):

“If we stoop and we compromise on our ideals as a nation, then these guys have accomplished much more than driving airplanes into the World Trade Center and into the Pentagon.”

As for me, I’m not religious, but I love how Col. Couch simply framed this issue:

“God means what he says. And we were created in his image, and we owe each other a certain level of dignity — a certain level of respect. And that’s just a line we can’t cross.”

As a human being, I was heartbroken and astonished that anyone could survive torture of this sickness and duration. As the daughter of a 32-year decorated Viet Nam veteran (U.S. Marine), I can only imagine that my dad is turning in his grave at Quantico National Cemetery. As an Amnesty International staff member, I am both fired up and proud that my organization is unwaveringly committed to fighting this unspeakable crap wherever it occurs, no matter who does it and no matter how far ahead of public opinion we may be.

Skip late-night Friends re-runs, this is must-see TV — if you care what your government does in your name.

Most Americans are ready to move beyond the nightmare of the last eight years. Yep, I’m all for massive change. But for some things in life the perps really ought to pay. And the U.S. war-on-terror detainees’ policy is one of them.

Sign Amnesty International’s petition for accountability. They just can’t get away with this.

Watch the trailer to Torturing Democracy

More on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Reflections on its 60th anniversary by former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, author and former child soldier Ismael Beah, doctor and human rights activist Farai Madzimbamuto, and our own Larry Cox.

And a classic 1988 Amnesty International animated guide to the UDHR — with voice over by Debra Winger and Jeff Bridges, and music by David Byrne (among other ’80s alt-rock luminaries).

Happy Human Rights Day — write a letter and help save a life this week!

The Real Story Behind Abu Ghraib

Standard Operating Procedure, directed by Errol Morris, tells the dark story behind the infamous photographs of detainee abuse and humiliation that came out of Abu Ghraib in 2004.

The images are haunting and uncomfortably familiar. Pictures of naked detainees stacked in a pyramid, a hooded prisoner standing on a box waiting to be electrocuted, a U.S. soldier giving the thumbs-up in front of a dead inmate in a body bag—these images are burned into minds around the world as symbols of the United States’ “war on terror.”

At face value, these images just show the ugly side of a few “bad apples,” but this documentary reveals the structures and policies that allowed routine human rights violations to happen and raises the important issue of accountability.

“I do not think that everything that happened at Abu Ghraib was directed by the White House or by the Pentagon. But I do think that polices were put in place by this administration that made it all possible,” said Errol Morris, the film’s director.  “…To me it’s a question of, what kind of country do we want to live in?”

The past elections prove that Americans do not condone torture; that Americans will not let their government flout human rights in the name of national security. Today, president-elect Obama announced the members of his future national security team, saying that they represent “the very best of the American example.”

But a fresh start and a new cabinet can’t wipe the slate clean. Questions of accountability still remain. President Bush still has the power to pardon any number of people potentially responsible for the egregious acts committed in the “war on terror.”

The American people deserve to know exactly what measures were taken to ensure their “protection.”